Doug Fogelson is not a photographer you’d see on the street, camera around his neck. Rather, Fogelson has made a photographic career of looking at things differently. His work, which is mostly camera-less, explores the possibilities offered by alternative ways of creating images. In this most recent work, Fogelson avails himself of the darkroom, using it as a tool to expose light-sensitive film.
The title of the show partially comes from the eye-like appearance of the finished work. Fogelson works with the enlarger as a kind of camera, photographing stacks of clear objects from above. He exposes the film, stacks the objects differently, and exposes again until he has what he’s after, image-wise. Cut glass or etched crystal is particularly fascinating, causing rays and interesting geometries. All of the photograms in this series are color, using different kinds of photo papers to create warmer or cooler backgrounds. To Fogelson the enlarger is also a witness to the objects beneath its gaze as it records them.
In a few images, “The Witness No. 10” and “The Witness No. 04,” for example, Fogelson used prisms or tinted glass to create actual spectrums or colored areas. “The Witness No. 22” was captured looking down into an etched champagne flute, creating a dazzling star-like form, and in “The Witness No. 10,” Fogelson used the six-sided base of a candleholder to form a geometric shape, turning it so one exposure is a skewed shadow of the other. “The Witness No. 01” has incredible depth, in the center of which is something that appears to be a sun flare, as if the image itself has caught fire.
Fogelson, who meditates and performs Pranayama breathing, says some of these images are similar to visualizations he’s had during practice. There is no question they are mystical—to me they feel like mandalas. You’re looking at them, but with their resemblance to the eye’s pupil and iris, they seem to be returning your gaze. As you move around the room, these beautifully framed “eyes” observe you, much as the eyes of certain paintings do. The gallery is small, but there is plentiful space between the ten twenty-by-sixteen-inch pieces, allowing them to breathe and to be viewed individually.
With this show, Fogelson has departed completely from any possible association to figurative work. In his earlier photograms, notably “Last Year’s Leaves,” “Fauxrest” and “Cassettes,” there is a sense of veracity— something identifiable remains and is recognizable. In “The Witness,” as in his work titled “Dirt,” Fogelson leaves all reality behind and asks the viewer to regard only the essence.
“The Witness” at Bert Green Fine Art, 8 South Michigan. Through March 24.